Today we bring you Matthew’s interview with Author and Illustrator Ana Bosch, who considers herself a writer of more than just romance, and currently working on a trilogy about, well, why don’t you just wait and find out? Matthew began by asking her why she wrote:
Ana: There are so many reasons! Primarily, I write because I love crafting stories. I love exploring the ways characters interact with each other, and I love being able to step outside myself and into another world. I also find it cathartic. While none of my writing can be considered anywhere near autobiographical, I often find ways to make sense of the struggles of my daily life by twisting and translating them into fiction—often in surprising and unpredictable ways.
Also, as someone with tastes that usually don’t fall within the realm of mainstream American entertainment, it’s really important to me to be able to share stories that are a little outside the norm and serve an audience that is often neglected by the mainstream.
Matthew: You’re also an illustrator, correct? Do you find your writing informs your illustration or vice versa?
Ana: It really does go both ways. My artistic background was a source of inspiration for Art of Death, Bonds of Death, Lifelines (the upcoming third book in my undead series), and even my Christmas story, Lucky. Art is a big part of my life, so many of my stories involve art or artistic characters. Riley, the main character from the undead series, shares my profession. But ironically, he had the job before I did. I didn’t become a freelance illustrator until after I wrote the draft of Art of Death, and I’ve had a lot more luck in the field than poor Riley.
I also think my artistic background has helped my writing itself. It’s much easier for me to visualize and describe characters and settings now than it was when I had less artistic experience.
On the flipside, my desire to be a storyteller definitely influences the way I create my illustrations as well. While every job is different, I prefer to create conceptual illustrations that suggest a story and raise questions in the viewer, rather than just displaying something pretty. It’s easier to do this when I’m working with my own stories, but when I’m given enough information and freedom, I try to do it with all my work.
Matthew: What makes a story worth reading for you? Worth writing?
Ana: I don’t have as much reading time as I would like, so I have to be selective. For a story to be worth reading, it has to be fresh, new, and different. It has to be either wildly creative or from a different perspective, and it has to challenge me to think. I don’t read a whole lot of fluff and tend more toward literary fiction. I have trouble reading for relaxation because, whether I want to or not, I always end up over-analysing everything I read, both for its literary merit and for its socio-political tilt. I always find myself asking stuff like, “Does this author remember that people of colour exist?” or “How do gender politics play a part in the story?” and so on.
As for what makes a story worth writing, again, it has to be fresh, new, and different. If I feel like someone else has already said what I want to say in my story, then I don’t feel compelled to write it. It also has to be something that captures my attention enough for me to see it through from start to finish. Usually, the story will find a way to tell me whether or not it needs to be written.
On a completely non-writing note, what’s your favourite tea and why?
Ana: This is a tough question, because I have so many favourites! I love high-quality loose black tea, especially Assam. And I also love crappy black tea from a tea bag—and chai—with milk and sugar, the good old Indian way like my parents always made it.
I also love flavoured black tea, more for the nutty flavours than fruity or floral. Adagio sells really good hazelnut and coconut flavoured black tea.
But overall, I regularly drink every type of tea I can get my hands on—black, green, white, oolong, and tisanes like rooibos, chamomile, peppermint, etc. There’s no such thing as too much tea.
Matthew: Bonds of Death is the sequel to Art of Death. For everyone who hasn’t read Art of Death, can you give us the condensed version and will someone be able to jump straight into Bonds of Death immediately?
Ana: I really do feel that the blurb for Art of Death does a good job of summarizing the plot:
Despite the support of his rich older boyfriend, starving artist Riley Burke is determined not to be a trophy—hence his second job as a nude model at the local art school. It’s important to him that he pay his own way, so when the artist Coliaro requests a private modeling session with him, he jumps at the chance to earn some real cash.
Then he hears the rumors—that Coliaro is undead. That his worshippers perform rituals to fill him with life energy. That every time he paints a male nude, the painting transforms to depict a gruesome murder. And that shortly after, a young man turns up dead.
The source of these rumors is a man named Westwood, who claims to be an instructor at the school and warns Riley not to get involved. Riley ignores the advice—but when the rumors pan out and another murder looms, he turns to Westwood for help. Westwood is clearly keeping secrets. He’s dangerous, and Riley doesn’t know if he can be trusted—which makes him all the more attractive. Riley is in way over his head… and his involvement with the undead may make him the ultimate target.
There isn’t too much else I’d want to say about the plot of Art of Death because just about everything I can think of is a spoiler. It’s much more fun to read the story and discover all the mysteries as they unfold. What I will say is that it really is a paranormal mystery. There is romance, but the focus is on the plot. It’s also on the dark and gritty side, even though it has some comedic and light-hearted moments.
I wrote Bonds of Death so it would hopefully make sense to people who haven’t read Art of Death, but the series is really meant to be read in order, with Art of Death first.
Matthew: From what I’ve seen, Westwood is clearly a vampire, but always use the word ‘undead’ rather than ‘vampire’. Is there any particular reason you’ve decided to go that route? Any possibility of seeing any other undead nasties creeping out in the story?
Ana: I’ve only seen one or two readers calling this a vampire series, mostly for lack of a better term for categorization. But the undead actually aren’t vampires at all. I don’t like writing about pre-existing paranormal creatures because the best part of paranormal/fantasy is getting to make your own rules. Westwood and the rest of the gang are a new creation, and “undead” was the most accurate name I could give them, albeit a general one.
The undead do have a couple things in common with vampires. They are former humans who have died and come back. They don’t age, and if they’re injured or killed, they’ll regenerate. They also have superhuman strength. But that’s where the similarity ends.
The undead don’t have fangs and don’t drink blood to survive, and they can’t turn a human into one of them. They have no problem with sunlight. They live as humans and have to eat, drink, sleep, and exercise like everyone else. Aside from superhuman strength, each undead also has his own unique set of supernatural abilities, along with one fatal weakness that can return him to eternal death.
The most unique thing about the undead is the way they can share their abilities with humans. By performing the ritual of an undead, a human can channel some of the undead’s abilities, while at the same time making the undead stronger. But each undead has a different ritual, and some aren’t quite as benign as others. The worshipping ritual is central to the plot of Bonds of Death. Riley is put in a position where he has to worship Westwood in order to protect him and make him stronger, but that doesn’t sit well with him when he’s seeking a relationship of equals and already suspects that Westwood doesn’t respect humans.
As for the possibility of seeing other undead nasties about… I’m currently writing Lifelines, which is the third book in the series, and there are a couple new things to look out for here. First, there’s a new undead dude whose ability is inspired by marionettes, and that’s been great fun to write. This guy’s followers use a blood ritual to gain the ability to control humans like puppets.
Also in Lifelines, we’re introduced to a certain type of corrupted undead, a fake and faulty version of the real thing that presents a new threat. But I’ll have to leave it at that if I want to avoid spoilers.
Matthew: Now we have an excerpt from Bonds of Death to share. Would you mind introducing it for us?
Ana: Not at all! This excerpt is from chapter 8. Riley has been invited to a wights-only party by one of Westwood’s enemies. This is a type of party that brings the undead in the community together with local humans who could potentially sign on as their worshipers. I like to joke that it’s kind of like a demented version of speed dating. But as usual with Riley, he fails to see the danger in the situation. In this scene, he poses for a painting for Porter, his best friend, and they talk about Westwood and the upcoming party.
On Wednesday night, Porter shyly asked Riley if he’d be willing to pose for a painting, “for old time’s sake,” as he put it. The setup in his bedroom wasn’t ideal, but at the moment he couldn’t afford to rent a studio space.
As requested, Riley sat sideways in a wooden chair, facing away so Porter could paint his back. Riley usually preferred Porter’s paintings when they included the model’s face because he had a knack for capturing likenesses and subtle hints of emotion, but a painting from behind meant he didn’t have to keep a rigid expression, and they could even converse while Porter worked. As Porter laid down the underpainting on his canvas, Riley filled him in on what had happened during the days he’d been gone, including all the details of Riley’s foray into designing baby dolls and Matt’s promise to send him more work.
A couple hours into the pose, Riley asked, “How does my back look? Is it getting too bony?”
Porter laughed out loud. “Relax, Riley. It’s just a painting.”
“I’m curious, that’s all.”
“You’re as gorgeous as always, okay? Jeez, I never understand you people with your perfect bodies who fret about every pound you gain or lose.”
After a pause, Riley reluctantly explained, “Westwood thinks I’m getting too skinny.”
“Is that why he hasn’t been coming around lately? What a douchebag.”
“How do you know he hasn’t been coming around? He usually lets himself in through my window.”
“Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard your bedsprings screaming for mercy.” He chuckled. “Or you, for that matter.”
Riley’s face went red. “I didn’t think you could hear.”
“Uh, yeah. I can hear. Mrs. Mason and I always analyze your performances when we run into each other in the stairwell.”
“Mrs. Mason? The old lady from the third floor?”
“Yep. I love her. She’s hilarious.”
“Man, you suck.” He waited, listening to Porter’s rhythmic scratchy brushstrokes for a minute before speaking again. “But no, that’s not why Westwood hasn’t been around. I think he’s… mad at me.”
“Why should he be mad at you?”
Riley frowned. “Well really, it’s all Quinn’s fault. She put me on the spot. She said Westwood needed to get stronger in order to survive an attack with your blood, and she asked me to worship him.”
The brushstrokes stopped. “And?”
“I said no. Well, I didn’t exactly say no, but I didn’t say yes, and Westwood obviously knew I was about to say no. He walked out of the meeting. And he was my ride, so Quinn had to drop me back at his house to pick up my car. And by the way, it doesn’t get any more awkward than being stuck alone in a car with Quinn.”
Porter began painting again. After a minute, he said, “In a sense, I see where Quinn is coming from. I personally don’t care if Westwood bites it, but apparently he does good work for Lychgate, so I guess it would be best for him to pick up a follower and get stronger.” He paused. “But you and Westwood are sleeping together. You’re the last person Quinn should be asking.”
“You think so?”
“Definitely,” Porter said. “You know how I feel about Westwood. He’s in it for himself. He always has been. You’ve been seeing each other for six months, and he probably doesn’t even know your middle name.”
“We didn’t see each other much for the first three months. Things only started picking up in June. And besides, I’m fine with things the way they are. He doesn’t need to know my life story.”
“But he’s already taking advantage of you, and if you start worshipping him, it’s just going to go to his head.”
“He doesn’t take advantage of me,” Riley protested. “I know how to take care of myself, Porter. And when he and I are together, I want it as much as he does.”
“I’m sure you have wonderful sex together,” Porter said. “But that’s not what I mean. It’s like when you were telling me about your big car chase. All Westwood cared about was running that other car off the road so he could save his own skin. You said it yourself; he didn’t even consider what it could have meant for you until Quinn told him off.” Again, the brushstrokes slowed. “Even though I’ve been undead for twenty years, I live as a human, and most of the undead I run into think I’m human. It’s become clear to me that most undead don’t have a lot of respect for humans. They think humans are inferior, and they don’t have much consideration for a human’s life. Since they can die and come back over and over, they forget what it’s like for the people who only have one shot at it.”
“Westwood is ignorant,” Riley admitted. “He doesn’t know any better. But that doesn’t mean he can’t change.”
“Do you think worshipping him is the way to get him to change?”
Riley didn’t reply. He remembered the last time he and Westwood had slept together. He remembered Westwood holding him down, positioning Riley’s body to his liking, and going at it without another thought. That night, Riley might as well have been a hole in the mattress, for all Westwood seemed to care about his half of the experience.
After a moment, Porter asked, “Can you relax your shoulders? Your muscles are bunching.”
“Oh, sorry.” Riley corrected his posture.
“Perfect. Thanks.” The brushstrokes resumed. “I’m sure there’s another human out there who’s willing to worship Westwood. It may be hard for him to find and seduce that person. He doesn’t know how to turn on the charm like, say, Thackary for example. But he’ll find someone. Heck, maybe you can help him look.” Another pause. “I just don’t know if you want to go opening yourself up to him like that.”
“I kind of feel the same way.” Riley gave a wry laugh. “You know, I’m going to a wights-only party this weekend. Maybe I’ll meet someone for him there.”
At this, Porter sputtered. “Wait a minute—you’re going to a wights-only party?”
“Yeah. Why is that so surprising?”
“Those parties are hardcore, dude. You don’t go to a wights-only party unless you really want to become a part of the world of the undead. I guess I figured that even though you were dating an undead guy, you still wanted to live a normal human life.”
“I do want to live a normal human life.” Riley hesitated. “To be honest, the main draw for me is the prospect of free food.”
Porter’s resulting cackle was so loud it made Riley wince. “Why is that funny?” he demanded.
“Dude, you’re delusional! I don’t even know what to say to you! If I invited you to an S&M orgy, would you come just for the hors d’oeuvres?”
“Not for, like, a cheese cube tray. But if you did something cool with smoked salmon or maybe some of those Thai lettuce wraps—”
“My God, Riley!” Riley heard the sound of paintbrushes clattering on the ground. “That’s it. I’m buying you groceries with my next paycheck.”
Riley glanced over his shoulder. “Hey, why did you stop painting?”
Porter tossed Riley his maroon silk robe. “I’m done.”
“Really?” Riley pulled on the robe, heading around to the other side of the easel to take a look. As usual, he was awestruck by Porter’s talent.
Porter’s hand lowered onto his shoulder, bringing him out of his trance. “Hey, buddy?”
Riley turned and met Porter’s gaze. His roommate looked unusually serious. “What?”
“If you’re really going to go to that wights-only party, just… just watch your back, okay? As much as I hate Westwood, at least he’s an honest guy. He doesn’t play games. Not everyone else who goes to those parties is like that.”
Riley considered his words. He knew it was silly, but the more people warned him about the dangers of wights-only parties, the more he wanted to go. He still didn’t see the harm in it. After all, no one could force him to perform a ritual if he didn’t want to. He’d go, scope the place out, and politely excuse himself. No big deal.
“Thanks,” he said to Porter at last. “I’ll watch my back.”
Book Title: Bonds of Death
Fresh out of a messy breakup, starving artist Riley Burke has found happiness with Westwood, his new undead lover—enough happiness that when his friend Porter warns him that the undead only see humans as flashy playthings, Riley looks the other way. After all, he only wants a bit of fun. It’s not like he’s asking Westwood to put a ring on his finger.
Once a brutal and violent criminal, Westwood now atones for his past by punishing the undead for crimes against humans. But his job doesn’t make him popular with his undead brethren—and someone has a thirst for revenge.
That someone has uncovered Westwood’s weakness and is on the hunt. To withstand an attack, Westwood must bolster his strength by taking on a human worshipper. He turns to Riley, but Riley is terrified of the bond Westwood’s ritual will create. He would rather risk his life pursuing Westwood’s attacker than risk opening his soul to a man who doesn’t respect him. But time is running out, and if Riley and Westwood can’t come together, one of them might pay the ultimate price.